A few winters ago, I took a trip down to Miami. My parents were living down there for a project my Dad was working on, and I figured it would be a great way to get away from Nashville during the cold gray season and see my folks. I wanted to get some exercise while I was there, so I packed my running shoes. I didn't know any good spots to run, though, so I did some Google searching and came across a group run called the Raven Run. In my experience, group runs-particularly those that make themselves known to the general public- are extremely welcoming and outgoing, so I made a plan to join them at least once. It wasn't hard, since they meet at the same time and place(a lifeguard station on South Beach) every day.
The second or third day I was there I needed to sweat out out all the mojitos, so I went over to join. After getting to the meet-up spot, I figured out that 'Raven' wasn't the name of the run-the Raven was a person. He was the guy that...well, ran the run. And he was late. There were seven or eight other people there, and while we waited, I talked to a few of them, and they told me the story.
The Raven's real name is Robert Kraft, and he's run eight miles every day for 40-some years. All but a handful of his runs have been on Miami Beach(the ones that haven't been on the beach have been when he was in the hospital or when there was a hurricane). When I heard that, it took a moment to soak in. Every day. For 40 years. The same time and place. I couldn't imagine just being at the same place every day for that long, let alone running every day for all those years.
After a few minutes, Raven showed up. He didn't look like your average endurance athlete. He wore all black-when he walked up, he was wearing a black leather jacket-and he had long, slick hair. He looked like someone had taken a guy from a motorcycle gang in the 50's and turned him into a runner. But he definitely looked like a runner; he's the kind of guy that looks 50 but might be 70.
Despite looking a bit intimidating, Raven was an outgoing, friendly host. He seemed to know most of the people on the run, and greeted them by nickname(I figured out that everybody that joins the run gets a nickname). There was a father and daughter there that had only run with the group a couple of times, several years prior, and he remembered them and their nicknames. We all chatted for a bit, then set off at a relaxed pace.
After ten minutes or so, Raven worked his way over to me and introduced himself. We talked for a while, and he asked me where I was from, what kind of runner I was, why I was in Miami; etc. I figured out after a few questions that he was looking for something about me that would stick in his mind so that he could give me a nickname. Finally he asked me what I did for a living. At the time I was working for an investment bank trading stocks. He heard that, paused, stuck a finger in the air, and said, "EQUITY!" I guessed that that was how it worked. I wasn't crazy about the nickname(everybody else had much cooler ones), but I figured there wasn't much I could do about it.
After a while the group started to split up and everyone found their pace with one or two others. I drifted around from one group to another, talking to the other runners and hearing their stories. I finished the run with a father and son from Minneapolis. The son was a cross country runner who was trying to stay in shape while they traveled(he was pretty quickly bored with our pace). Everybody was friendly and unguarded with their stories in the way that so many runners in their element are. It was one of the better runs I've ever been on: beautiful place, easy miles, and a friendly group.
After we finished, we stood around in the late afternoon sun, stretched, and talked some more. I needed to go but didn't want to. It was such a pleasant experience that I'd have gladly stayed for hours, but pretty soon people started to wander off, back to their cars and the rest of their day. I chatted to Raven for a few minutes more and then did the same, reluctantly.
When I got back to my parents' place, I was still thinking about Raven, so I did some research. I found out that he hasn't had an easy life-he's a songwriter and, like so many others, had a bad experience with the Nashville music making machine. He's had some health problems, and no one seemed to know how he made a living. A doctor told him once that he should never run again, ever. That was some time in the 90's.
I thought about that and about him for a long time. I thought about how, in a tempestuous life, running must seem like a sanctuary-the one calm place, the one thing that can be relied upon when everything else offers only disappointment or grief. I've certainly had those moments in my life with the bike-when every other part of life seemed uncertain or just bad, I knew that at a minimum I had a way of clearing my head and drawing comfort from fatigue. I imagine that's what running on the beach has done for Raven over all those years. No matter what's going on in his life, no matter how good or bad things are, he always has that run-whether it's for celebration or solace. And now, through his dedication, he's built something. People come from all over to run with him. They're inspired by him-to clean up their lives, to run a marathon, or just to run.
When I think about Raven and that run, I'm glad for the reminder that I'm lucky. I'm lucky to have that way to clear my head, to feel better when life sucks, to spend time with friends, to just get a good night's sleep. I'm aware that not everybody has something like that in their lives. I'm glad that I do. Remembering that helps me get out the door and on the bike on the days when I feel like staying on the couch.
If you're ever in Miami, I'd encourage you to head down to the lifeguard station and run with Raven. Tell him Equity says hello.